Marvel Super Heroes RPG – Vegas, baby!
The recent superhero movies got me fired up to try running a Marvel Super Heroes game. Years ago, I participated in the Nightmares of Futures Past series of modules for the MARVEL SUPER HEROES RPG, referred to now as the Classic Marvel Roleplaying game. The game (both the Basic and Advanced set) was originally produced in the mid-1980s, so the artwork looks a little dated (being from the comics of that era) and pre-dates movies like the X-Men series. TSR (later Wizards of the Coast) lost the Marvel license in later years, and Marvel now license their IP to Margaret Weis productions, in the form of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game.
I’m quite fond of the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Although there are (and were) other RPGs such as MUTANTS & MASTERMINDS and DC HEROES, I’ve always liked how the MSH RPG worked. The ruleset is an interesting one, often referred to as the FASERIP system. It is based upon seven basic percentile-based stats: Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche (abbreviated to FASERIP, hence the name). Depending on the superhero’s type (which can include undead, angels or demons, minerals, pure energy, as well as the more familiar mutants and robots), stats and their Powers range from Feeble (1) to Unearthly (100). These ranks cover everything else including things like wealth and other assets (Resources). For example Iron Man has Excellent (EX 16) Resources as the millionaire playboy Tony Stark; Spider Man (Peter Parker) struggles with Poor (PR 3) resources as an impoverished Grad student.
Rather than go for the current vogue in assigning points to stats, I decided to go for a completely random approach towards the stat generation and powers, as featured in the book. I also chose to use the Ultimate Powers book which provides a huge variety of powers for players, as well as adding a variety of origins to the basic builds. I got the players to roll up their stats then gave them the opportunity to re-roll their stats or their origin. Character generation is quite involved but it makes for some very interesting characters once completed. I basically set aside an afternoon at ORC to generate the PCs, which was just as well.
I find that building PCs in a group is a lot more fun than individually: we were all sitting down, bouncing ideas off each other, and it became far more of a social activity. We came up with some good ideas and I think some of the newer and/or quieter players gained some confidence as well. The FASERIP system is actually not too complicated but it can have a few concepts that are a little challenging to new players (such as the Power ranks).
UPDATE (AUGUST 2012): Unfortunately this game never got off the ground. I began with seven players and by the time the second session was booked I was down to three. There wasn’t any further interest so I decided to shelve the game for now.
Days of Future Past
If you’ve seen, the X-Men movies or read the comics, you’re likely aware of the events leading up to the Days of Future Past storyline (from X-Men 141). When a prominent anti-mutant Senator is assassinated, public opinion turns against mutants leading to the creation of Project Wideawake and the activation of the mutant-hunting robotic Sentinels. In the third X-Men movie, the simulation in the Danger Room features a Sentinel – that’s the big robot head that comes crashing down after the Wolverine/Colossus “Fastball Special” combo move.
Unfortunately, the Sentinels interpret their programming in such a way that all those with super-powers are a threat, and act accordingly – hunting down and killing heroes such as Captain America and those whose DNA has been altered. In the process, much of the major cities in the US are devastated by the conflict, with those surviving mutants imprisoned in internment camps. As a result, the setting is pretty grim and dark – the PCs are in fear for their lives or risk capture almost constantly.
The game that I originally played in was set in the US capital, Washington (I played a shape-changing reptilian alien named The Outsider). There’s actually four adventures in the setting (also known as Earth 8-11 in the Marvel universe) : Nightmares of Futures Past, the X-Potential, Reap the Whirlwind and Flames of Doom. However there’s a huge amounts of duplication in the first and second modules – whereas other scenarios were somewhat linear, these particular modules tend to encourage the GM (or Judge, in MSH parlance) to think creatively, often requiring them to improvise. For me this works quite well, as my GM style lends itself to this sort of game: the kind of game where I’ve got what I need material-wise in my head, and rules-wise at my fingertips.
I’d considered initially setting the game in New York, but I felt that that particular city was probably too well-known, as well as the fact that much of the city had been damaged by the Sentinel takeover. Instead, I’ve chosen to set the game in and around Las Vegas. I’ve been there myself, and the desert setting makes it interesting: nuclear test sites, Area 51, Nellis Air Force base, Lake Mead, the Grand Canyon, remote mines and ghost towns, crowds in the Strip, the casinos and shows, the Maggia connections, etc…
The biggest thing to remember about Vegas is that its geared towards making colossal amounts of money on a daily basis. The casinos never close, and with no clocks or windows it is easy to loose track of time. Its also a relatively new city – aside from the glitz and fake glamour of the Strip, the main avenue around where the majority of casinos are located, everything else is geared towards the casinos, with basic housing estates and very little in the way of anything that isn’t gambling-related. Watch the backgrounds in the original CSI to see what I mean. As it is in the middle of the desert it is also geographically remote – so there’s a sense of isolation there too.
Look & Feel
The isolation was stressed right from the outset. The PCs arrived in Vegas with no idea of where they were initially. They had no support network, although they could phone their Contacts, no money and no place to live. They were pretty much walking against the flow the Strip too, in a crowd of fake glamour and glitz. Police and security were everywhere and all around was the desert itself. Sentinels had their base in the former Stratosphere hotel, seen from anywhere in Vegas, a visual reminder constantly looming over everything (its the one with the spire as you can see here).
The players were also expecting to deal with the Maggia – I’d also twisted things so that the organized crime syndicate had been suborned by a clan of shape-shifting alien lizardfolk, the Anunnaki, who effectively ran things in Vegas, looking a bit like the Silurians in Doctor Who, only dressed in suits (David Icke was right in this case . The PCs would be dealing with an unknown foe as a result, although it is perfectly possible they could have allied with them. The fact that Nellis Air Force base was nearby also gave me the chance to have shipments of mutants being ferried into the area, possibly allowing new players and PCs to join.
I blame myself for what went wrong. The first game was character creation, we all got on great. we had some great ideas for PCs, even though some of the random powers seemed to replicate . However: the the first proper session, two players couldn’t make it and one was ill. Fair enough, it happens. The game was planned to be largely free-form anyway, with me winging it a lot. With three players we had quite a good session although it became painfully (literally) obvious that Sentinels are tough; and when they hit you with their energy beams it hurts. Although they escaped, nearly all were wounded in some way.
The second session, I had three players. Two had disappeared off the radar, one couldn’t make it (but had let me know in advance). I kind of “threw my toys out the pram” at that point and cancelled the game. I’m relatively certain that it wasn’t the game or me, but it was a bit petulant on my part. I’d actually spent a bit of time getting organised and when half the players can’t be bothered to turn up, it pissed me off.
- My own version of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG character sheet, a PDF with form-fillable fields.